My question without notice is to the Minister for Roads. What is the Government doing to help reduce the road toll?
In the past three years there have been dramatic decreases in the road toll. The worst recorded result was in 1978, when 1,384 people lost their lives. At the start of this decade 797 people lost their lives on New South Wales roads. During last year 556 lost their lives on New South Wales roads. That is the lowest number of fatalities since 1949, but it is still unacceptable. Last year 26,000 people were injured on our roads. To put it into perspective, approximately 11 people are killed on our roads each week. The most important part of my job is dealing with road safety.
Since its election in 1995 the Government has undertaken a number of very worthwhile initiatives to deal with the road toll: double demerit points; the 50-kilometre-an-hour speed limit in residential areas that has now been adopted by about 100 different councils; the 40-kilometre-per-hour speed limit near school bus stops, and the safer route to school program, as well as the enormous expenditure we are incurring in country and urban areas of the State to make our roads safer. Examples include the Pacific Highway, the Great Western Highway and the Princes Highway.
A few days ago on behalf of the Government I launched our testimonials television campaign, which some country members would have already seen. This campaign is quite unusual in that the people appearing in the advertisement are not actors, they are relatives, family members, workmates and friends of people who have died on our roads, particularly country roads. As I announced when I launched that program, there is a myth that people killed on roads in country New South Wales are city-based people. That is not true. For every 10 people killed on country roads seven actually live in the country, and most accidents occur within 50 kilometres of the farm gate. Country people are being killed on country roads.
The testimonials campaign is endeavouring to give a message particularly to country folk that they need to slow down. Just because they are familiar with country roads does not mean they are immune to accidents. Speed, fatigue and alcohol continue to be the three most important ingredients in road fatalities in New South Wales. While the road toll is coming down, it is still unacceptable. I ask that honourable members, when they are celebrating New Year’s Eve this year, remember that by the end of the next year more than 550 people who celebrated New Year’s Eve this year will be killed on the roads. That brings it home.
Who will those 550 people be? Each of us in this House will say: It will not be me or my parents,
or one of my children, or one of my neighbours. That sort of complacency sets in with drivers. Unfortunately, 550 people who celebrate this New Year’s Eve will be killed on our roads come the new century. That is why I want honourable members to absorb the task we all have, in a bipartisan way, to endeavour to reduce the road toll even further. At various times governments of both persuasions have had this task and they have had varying degrees of success.
This Government has developed a 10-year strategy called Road Safety 2010. I invite honourable members to read this document, which will be available from today. It contains a whole range of strategies to deal with speed, alcohol, fatigue, and the failure to wear seatbelts. I find it extraordinary that of the people killed on our roads each year approximately 100 do not wear seatbelts, and about 50 of those die because of that. One of the things we have particularly concentrated on is young drivers, the 17- to 25-year-olds. We have found they are being killed on our roads at a higher rate than is warranted by the number of licences held by that age group.
The anecdotal superficial response to the question, "Why is that so?" is, "They are reckless; they are indifferent to their safety." That is not so. Research reveals that 17- to 25-year-olds rank much higher in our accident statistics because of inexperience. Today I announced a fundamental change to the way in which we license young drivers. At the moment, young people wishing to get a licence have to take a knowledge test to get their L-plates. They then undergo a period of instruction followed by a practical test to obtain their P-plates. Twelve months later they obtain a full licence.
I announced today that in July next year a different system of licensing drivers will commence. The driver knowledge test will remain. Young people will remain on their L-plates for a period, but those instructing young drivers will be expected to certify at the back of a logbook that they have various standards of competency, such as night driving, driving on multilane roads, driving at peak hour, driving at night, et cetera. They will still undertake the practical test, but the Government will include something new in that learner-to-P-plate stage - a logbook.
The Government has decided that young drivers need a greater period of supervision. At the moment they have only 12 months supervision and then progress from driving at 80 kilometres an hour to full licence and then to driving at 110 kilometres an hour. As Minister for Roads I believe it is appropriate that we have a greater degree of oversight and supervision of our young people. We need to keep a closer eye on them as they move from adolescence, to becoming learner drivers and to obtaining experience on the roads so that they can become fully-fledged licensed drivers, driving at 110 kilometres an hour.
Part of the reason why young people figure so often in accident statistics is that we do not have a greater period of oversight or supervision as they obtain that experience through the system. When young people obtain their P-plates the Government will require them to hold on to those plates for 12 months, as is the case at present, but they will be able to drive slightly faster at 90 kilometres an hour. At the end of that 12-month period they will be required to undertake what is called a computer-based hazard perception test. Effectively, the Government will make videos of certain hazardous situations on the road.
A young person will turn up at a registry, a video will be played on a computer screen and he or she will be required to touch the screen to indicate various responses to hazardous situations. Young persons who can demonstrate that they are knowledgeable in dealing with those situations will then proceed to the next stage to qualify for a provisional two-year licence. They will be required to hold that provisional licence for two years and will be able to drive at 110 kilometres per hour. In a sense, experience and knowledge will be rewarded and those who qualify will go to the next stage of a graduated licence system. At the end of the two-year period drivers will be put through another computer test, which will be a mix of advanced hazard perception tests, road safety questions and things of that nature.
Drivers who have completed that test will then be entitled to a full licence. There is a range of other things in this road safety document. I invite every honourable member to read it closely. It contains a range of initiatives right across the area of road safety. The Government is concentrating in particular on dealing with young people so that we can achieve the targets we have now set of 400 road fatalities by 2005, and 300 road fatalities by 2010. They are challenging and ambitious targets, as they should be. Road fatality targets should not be easy to achieve; they should be difficult to achieve so that we do not become complacent about achieving them. I think they are achievable, but they are challenging for governments of either political persuasion. However, we should continue to endeavour to meet those targets.